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Movie/Book Review: Warm Bodies

Last week I read Warm Bodies (the novel) by Isaac Marion... and tonight I went out and saw Warm Bodies (the film).

So, under the cut is a critique of the movie based on having read the book. At the bottom of this entry, I'll put a critique of the movie as though I hadn't ever read the book...

Overview of plot (of both novel and film): The story follows R the zombie, as he eats a man's brain and then falls in love with the dead man's ex-girlfriend, Julie - making the strange decision to keep her safe and alive. In the process of trying to form a meaningful connection with Julie, R ends up causing a chain reaction both in himself and the zombies around him...meanwhile, Julie's recovering from the loss of her ex-boyfriend, dealing with a distant tyrannical father who runs the walled-in human survivors, and trying to figure out what the heck is up with this strange zombie that isn't behaving like zombies usually do.

Warm Bodies the Novel is pretty damn excellent. And the first thing I LOVED about it, like, literally in the very first chapter (probably on the first page) was the fact that it's told entirely through Rs narration and R uses language BEAUTIFULLY. He's loquacious (in his head) and filled with constant thoughts that he's desperate to communicate to the world, and this takes us right into the first tragedy of being a zombie. R can't communicate any of this beautiful language with anyone. The words get stuck in his throat. He can't manage more than 3 syllables. Mostly everything just comes out as groans.

And this is one of the many layers of the story - one of the many metaphors that the zombies represent. They're people who are cut off from humanity, because they can't communicate.... you know, in addition to being cut off from humanity because they EAT humanity, which is a whole other problem.

This is the first thing that let me down about the film, because they have R's voice-over, but they've dumbed down his language... and to me that just stole away a large part of the character, not to mention one of the first themes of the book: the fact that in order to understand each other, we have to learn how to communicate with each other.

The other strange different choice they made for the film was R's outfit. They put him in a red hoodie... I suppose just so that he'd stand out more against all the grey-washed zombies... but in the novel he's in a dress shirt and a red tie. Which leads into the second zombie metaphor, which is when R imagines that he must have worked in a cubicle day in and day out before he died, and maybe being a zombie isn't actually that different. (In the film, he assumes that he was unemployed, because he's wearing a hoodie... which if we were to read into it, would be a different metaphor entirely.)

While I was reading the novel, I kept trying to figure out if Julie qualified as a manic pixie dream girl... and then I realized no, if there were a manic pixie dream girl, it would actually be PERRY, her dead ex-boyfriend. Julie was actually a fully fledged character who did not live only for R, nor was she perfect-but-quirky... she was actually realistic, flawed, and had her own shit to deal with. Perry, meanwhile, lives only for R... or, I should say, DIES only for R. R consumes his brain and gets Perry's memories... and then oddly, Perry starts communicating with R directly, giving him warnings and advice along the way. Of course, the part where Perry doesn't qualify as a manic-pixie dream girl is that R never hooks up with him at the end - though, one could argue that maybe he actually does... or he at least hooks up with the part of Perry's being that he coveted.

This, of course didn't show up in the the film. We see R experience Perry's memories, and then we see him dream about Perry once, but Perry doesn't say anything to him of value, and the focus of the dream is Julie (while in the novel, the subject of the dream is usually Perry's own feelings about life, love, etc, contrasted with R's). Also, although the film hints at it, because we don't see much of Perry, we don't get as full an understanding of how suicidal he was before R ate him.

The other metaphor in the novel, which is displayed through Julie and her father's relationship, is that it's when we cut off our emotions and stop valuing our loved ones that we become zombies... the film did a poor job of displaying this also. Julie makes a few cutting remarks about her father, but IMHO John Malcovich (and, if any of you are JM fans, feel free to hate me for this) was not a good pick to play her father... his voice is too sweet, and he emotes too much by default. They needed someone harder, because Julie's father was supposed to be hard and disconnected, unwilling to listen, unwilling to change.  Which of course is the other MAJOR change with the ending. Not to give too much away, but let's just say that Julie's father was supposed to get a MUCH different ending then he got in the film. I think what they did was they combined Julie's father with another character from the novel, and thus gave Julie's father the other character's ending...but in so doing, they negated one of the strongest metaphors in the original novel.

Another thing they got rid of was the comparison between being trapped inside your own mind as zombie, and being trapped inside the walled-in city as a human... and how basically everyone in the entire story was a prisoner of some kind.

Of course, the metaphor they did keep is that it's through our connections with others that we survive, find joy, and feel alive. And I suppose that's the most important metaphor, so I can't fault the movie TOO much for discarding all the other delicious metaphors. (There's also a great metaphor about how it's the arts that keeps us alive, and if we don't support the arts, then humanity loses itself... and that metaphor wasn't touched on at ALL in the film.)

My other major quibble with the film (and yes, it IS major) is that they changed Rs record collection. In the novel, R listens primarily to oldies... a LOT of Frank Sinatra. He actually uses it at various points to communicate with Julie - skipping the needle between songs to find the sentences that he needs that he can't say himself due to his "condition". In the film, for god knows what reason (maybe the music was too expensive?), they had R listening to a lot of 80s pop... John Waite and the like...and it, once again, strips R of his elegance the same way taking away his beautiful thoughts did. Sinatra sets a MUCH different tone than John Waite, no offense to John Waite.


If you've never read the book....

The movie was really good! Entertaining and actiony. There's very little relationship building scenes between Julie and her father though to make the ending as meaningful as it appears to want to be, but that's really my only quibble. Other than that, it was a fine ZomRomCom, and exactly what I expected (before having read the book). Light-hearted, funny, entertaining, and filled with very good actors.

I also really like how Julie (Teresa Palmer) was betrayed as a hero in her own right. Although she had to be rescued a few times, it was balanced out by the number of times she herself had to come to the rescue of R, or her friends, or an entire community. Not only that, but she runs like a champ... I watched an interview with Nicholas Hoult (R) where he mentioned how she ran fast and it was hard for him to keep up while maintaining his "zombie run" and man, I can totally see that.

Also, fun fact: Nicholas decided that R shouldn't blink, and it's pretty amazing when you actually watch some scenes with that in mind... because he really doesn't blink. It's crazy.

Anyway, all in all, despite not being as deliciously wonderful as the book, I enjoyed the movie for what it was. :)

I would, however, recommend that you read the book - because it is DELICIOUSLY WONDERFUL, like eating someone's brains.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
missyjack
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:27 am (UTC)
Film isn't out here in Aust. yet, so I think I'll go read the book! Thanks for the rec. Also just downloaded a new UK series called In the Flesh, set in Wales and follows a zombie teenager who is being integrated back into his community. Sounds fascinating.
hells_half_acre
Mar. 22nd, 2013 08:03 pm (UTC)
I definitely recommend the book! I enjoyed it immensely. Though, in reading it, you might end up enjoying the film a little less!

I've heard of In the Flesh - let me know how it is! I'm not a huge fan of horror movies (gasp!) but I LOVE zombie metaphors when done right. :)
liliaeth
Mar. 22nd, 2013 08:15 pm (UTC)
Seconding the 'In the Flesh' rec.

Watched last week's ep and can't wait to see the next ep.

It's actually not so much horror, less actually than there is in an average Supernatural ep. It's more psychological, with the metathpor of the infective ill/drugaddicts/mental patients coming home after a long time. And how the zombies or PDS sufferers deal with returning back to society after what they've done.
hells_half_acre
Mar. 22nd, 2013 08:18 pm (UTC)
Cool! Definitely sounds good.
liliaeth
Mar. 22nd, 2013 09:47 am (UTC)
I see what you mean about the suit and tie, but I think that the primary reason for the change to the hoodie, is to make R look and feel younger. Nora even says it in the movie, he could be a teen or he could be in his twenties. Where in the book he's more late twenties early thirties. (Note the bit about his zombie wife and kids)

I guess they were trying to pull in the Twilight crowd whom they worried would turn away from an older R.
hells_half_acre
Mar. 22nd, 2013 08:00 pm (UTC)
Good point, they did make everyone younger than in the book - Nora especially. So, yeah, that does explain the hoodie. That being said, I don't think that's any excuse to make R inelegant in his voice-over or take away his Sinatra.
liliaeth
Mar. 22nd, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
Well the problem of R's inner voice, is that that it works very well in books, but if they used it in the movie, it might have sounded too stretched out and not half as funny, which is important when you add an inner monologue in a movie.

Didn't mind the music change so much, but that's just me.
hells_half_acre
Mar. 22nd, 2013 08:27 pm (UTC)
I think there could have been a happy balance struck, but that's just me. ;)
fannishliss
Mar. 22nd, 2013 10:37 am (UTC)
thanks for your review! it is always great to hear a well thought out opinion on a movie we might go see. glad to hear they did a good job and intrigued by the book.
hells_half_acre
Mar. 22nd, 2013 07:56 pm (UTC)
I'd definitely recommend the book. And the movie, as long as you're just going for good entertainment and not thinky-thoughts. :)
katsheswims
Mar. 22nd, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
This makes me want to read the book!

I've actually read a book that has a similar premise but it's not apocalyptic despite there being zombies--but it was very long ago that I read it. The main girl character actually falls in love with a zombie and he seems to love her but it's for actually much more political reasons...

I don't remember it being a great read, but it was okay. And I think it was set up so there would be a sequel. (I'll have to check that out.)

The book was Generation Dead by Daniel Waters.

Edited at 2013-03-22 10:08 pm (UTC)
hells_half_acre
Mar. 22nd, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)
Cool. I haven't read very many zombie books. Actually, Warm Bodies might be the first zombie-centric novel I ever read. All the other books just had zombies as part of a larger fantasy world.

I'd definitely recommend you read Warm Bodies! It's very interesting and makes you appreciate being able to communicate. :P
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )